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ITTFA Comment on… Global growth for meetings venues

Members of ITTFA and the thousands of travel and tourism organisations attending their events will soon have a much greater choice of exhibition venues, as construction of new facilities speeds up around the world.

China and the Middle East are at the forefront of building new meetings and exhibitions venues, while India is starting to compete and “mature” destinations including the US and Europe are also planning major increases in capacity.

This alone is sufficient to change the face of the global exhibitions industry, but it is not just a question of extra capacity. Exhibition venues in the 21st Century are very different to their predecessors of even 10 or 20 years ago, meaning that the whole industry must modernise to stay competitive.

Exhibitions for the meetings and exhibitions industry itself are held in various countries around the world, including ITTFA member EIBTM which brings together mainly European buyers at its annual event in Barcelona. Reed Travel Exhibition’s global portfolio of Meeting and Incentive Events includes EIBTM; GIBTM, held for the first time in Abu Dhabi in 2007; and events in Australia and China.

Group exhibition director Paul Kennedy feels that what makes a good exhibition venue in the 21st Century goes beyond the physical environment, covering the whole issue of Corporate Social Responsibility. It is effectively a new way of doing exhibition business, and a good example is the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre where GIBTM is held.

Phase One opened in February this year, but Phase Two is already under construction to create 55,000 square meters of linked meetings and exhibition space. By 2008 it expects to be welcoming over one million visitors a year to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.

Kennedy explains: “The first thing a modern exhibition venue needs is flexibility of space, rather than the ‘one size fits all’ philosophy. Venues need to create a space that meets clients’ needs rather than simply fill their own space. “Years ago, anyone hiring meetings or exhibition space had to buy a package. Now successful venues are starting with what the client needs, finding out what is the objective of the event and what would ensure its success. ”

“The Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre is probably the best venue in the world at present – light and airy, very flexible, with fantastic access and run by a professional team. Remarkably it was built from nothing to opening in only 10 months, whereas in Europe we would still be talking about such a new centre after 10 years.”

Kennedy feels existing venues can modernise, and that it is relatively easy to install new technology such as optical cables and wifi access. But it is less easy to implement Corporate Social Responsibility, which covers not just environmental issues but other factors too.

“Buildings erected without the environment in mind could have a problem adapting heating, air-conditioning, waste management and recycling, which are high on the corporate agenda,” he explains. “Corporate Social Responsibility also covers areas such as workers’ and human rights. Even Third World countries can adopt this, with low wages simply reflecting the low cost of labour.”

The result of high quality extra capacity will be downward pressure on prices, to benefit exhibitions, their clients and visitors. We could be enjoying state-of-the-art facilities at prices lower than we have come to expect.

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